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Congressman visits cardiac and pulmonary rehab facility

Cookeville Regional Medical Center’s cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services are essential for patients recovering from heart problems and who have long-term breathing problems.

It’s a three-phase rehab program where nurses or exercise physiologists are available at all times to provide monitoring and education, along with emotional support, to help further the rehabilitation process.

The center recently had a visit from Congressman John Rose, where he heard about the services and the need for expansion.

“Before COVID, we saw nearly 2,000 patients per month,” said Debbie Baker, director of the cardiac and pulmonary rehab center.

Following shut downs due to high COVID numbers in the hospital last year, the staff is ready to get back to full capacity.

“I think we are going to be seeing a big influx of cardiac and pulmonary patients in the near future, which shows the need for more space and easier patient access to care,” Baker said.

That is due to a number of patients developing heart and lung issues during the mandated COVID shut downs, along with those suffering from COVID complications.

Patients come from all over the region, which can be a burden due to rising fuel prices.

However, a bill introduced in the House in May of 2021 could expand the accessibility of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services.

HR 3348 proposes an amendment to title XVIII of the Social Security Act to allow payments under the Medicare program for certain items and services furnished by off-campus outpatient departments of a provider to be determined under the prospective payment system for hospital outpatient department services.

Current Medicare guidelines state that cardiac and pulmonary rehab facilities must operate within 250 yards from a hospital and have a cardiologist available. Any facility outside that distance loses 40 percent reimbursement from Medicare while providing the same service. This is cost prohibitive for rehab centers to expand to locations that allow for easier patient access.

“We have patients who come in from Jamestown and southern Kentucky, which is a good hour to hour-and-a-half away one way two to three times a week,” said Baker. “If this guideline were changed with regards to reimbursements, we could establish outreach clinics in those areas.”

Cookeville Regional Medical Center CEO Paul Korth is supportive of the idea to expand cardiac and pulmonary rehab services.

“It’s an essential service to those who have undergone heart and lung procedures to get back to their lives,” he said. “It also keeps them from having recurrent issues.”

The bill has 34 co-sponsors, but none from Tennessee. “I felt if Congressman Rose could see the Inpatient and outpatient side of our Heart and Lung programs in person it would help him to see the positive impact passing the bill would have on Tennesseans.” Baker said.

It was referred to the subcommittee on health where it still sits today.